Woodie Walker writes in the Hampton Roads Business Journal that for the Motta family, the American Dream begins each day, just before dawn. At 19 locations in Virginia and New Hampshire, it’s time to make the donuts.
For more than 30 years John and Maria Motta have tied their future to the world’s largest coffee and baked goods chain. All of their children started working in the shops as teenagers. Today, three Motta siblings live in Virginia, keeping a watchful eye on eight Dunkin’ Donuts franchises throughout Hampton Roads.
Dad and Mom split time between the family’s hometown of Nashua, N.H., and another home in Virginia Beach. Their daughter and son-in-law, Michelle and Joel De Leon, are general mangers for the family’s 11 franchises in New Hampshire.
It all began in 1980, John said, when he became partners with his father, brother and sister in a franchise in Newton, Mass. Seven years later, John bought his first franchise alone in Merrimack, N.H.
“We decided to get into the Dunkin’ Donuts business because many of my relatives were already doing it, and we saw how successful they were,” he said. “All of my relatives came to the U.S.A. from a tiny Portuguese island call St. Michael Island in the Azores.
“They all came here to pursue the American dream, and Dunkin’ Donuts realized that dream for them.”
The first Motta sibling to move to Virginia was Johnny, 26. He’s the eldest and serves as general manager for the family’s Hampton Roads franchises. He moved here in August 2007, when the family purchased six area Dunkin’ Donuts locations.
Eric, 22, came south in June 2008, a week after finishing college. Three months later their sister, 24-year-old Jessica, joined her brothers. Eric manages the Hampton Boulevard location, near ODU, while Jessica manages the Princess Anne Road location, near Arrowhead Plaza.
Nearly two years after his arrival in Hampton Roads, Johnny has mastered the area’s cut-up geography, met some friends and found fun places to hang out. Eric is happy here, but sometimes still calls New Hampshire home. Jessica has also adjusted, dating a Navy diver. It doesn’t take long to understand, however, they are very focused on their roles in the family business.
“I like it here, but it’s different,” Johnny said. “We grew up near the New Hampshire/Massachusetts border, about 40 minutes from Boston. Nashua has about 90,000 people, but it’s much less urban that Norfolk or Virginia Beach.”
The business of running a Dunkin’ Donuts is different, too.
“In New England, everybody knows Dunkin’ Donuts as a beverage store, and we’re very involved with the sports teams. At a Red Sox or Patriots game, you see Dunkin’ Donuts signs on the fence or in the stadium. Here people see us as more of a donut shop, and that’s the biggest challenge we face,” Johnny said.
It’s a point his father made as well.
“At our stores in New England, 8 to 10 percent of our revenue is from donuts,” John said. “Seventy percent is from drinks. In Virginia, 45 percent of the revenue is from donuts, and 35 percent from drinks.
“So we’re working to educate consumers about our diversity. While our donuts are consistently ranked the best in the U.S., we also have great coffee and beverages.”
According to John, Brand Keys, a consumer-tracking company, ranked Dunkin’ Donuts number one for customer loyalty in the coffee category for the past three years.
Still, selling iced coffee south of the Mason-Dixon Line may require some creative effort, he admits.
“My son says iced coffee is seen as a lady’s drink in Virginia,” John said. “But up north it’s seen as refreshing summertime drink.”
The Mottas kicked off their consumer awareness campaign by remodeling five of the first six stores they bought in Virginia.
“It’s a huge commitment,” John said, “but now they have a new, vibrant image.”
“We’re also going to be very involved with ODU’s new football program,” Johnny said. “In Nashua people know us, they know our family and we are very involved in the community. We want to build that same relationship with our customers here.”
It didn’t take long to get to know the regular customers, said Jessica and Eric. Their day starts at 5 a.m., six days a week. But they’ve been working in the business so long, even while in college, they found the move to Virginia didn’t require too much adjustment.
“After about a month I started recognizing people,” Eric said.
“For me, it’s not like going to work,” Jessica said. “The customers are our friends.”
Not only are customers coming in the doors, John said, they are coming back.
The Motta franchises are part of a Dunkin’ Donuts region that stretches from the Outer Banks to Williamsburg.
Overall, this regional market recently had the highest customer count increase, and the highest sales increase, in the entire Dunkin’ Donuts corporation, John said.
“In Virginia, our sales are up 8.8 percent over last year,” he said.
Part of the family’s move to Virginia included a commitment to open 40 new locations throughout the region.
Recently the old Hampton Boulevard store was closed and ground was broken at a new store, at 39th Street and Hampton Boulevard.
“Like the remodels, this is a big commitment,” John said. “But we have a good relationship with the Dunkin’ Donuts executives. This business been good to us for 30 years, and we’ll stick with what we’re good at.
“There are always pros and cons to franchising,” he said. “On one hand, you have the name recognition working for you, and the benefit of national advertising. On the other hand, you’ve always got Big Brother over your shoulder.
“I’ve always found that, if you abide by your contract and just do what you say you are going to do, there are very few problems.”
According to Johnny, those same rules apply to working in a family business.
“We’ve never really had any problems,” he said. “We’ve always been close and we knew what was expected of us. We knew the stories about our other family members and how hard they worked and our parents were always very fair with us.”
“It’s like history repeating itself,” John said. “I got involved in business with my father when he was 50, and almost on my 50th birthday, three of my children move to Virginia Beach to manage franchises.”